Ten Things That Surprised Me About Vietnam

Stephanie and I visited Ho Chi Minh City (previously known as Saigon) and areas within the Mekong Delta region in April, 2011. (See Location Map)

1. The People
selling books at cafe in Ho Chi Minh City

Saigon Cafe Book Vendor

The people were friendly and inquisitive.  Many of them were delighted to see Americans and seemed to appreciate America.

2. The Food
Vietnamese fried fish during Mekong Delta Tour

Special Dinner Vietnamese Fried Fish

It was amazing to see what the local people ate and I was even more amazed at what we ate.  Most of the time, I asked Blake not to tell me what it was that I was eating.  In the markets, I was in awe of the food available from the sea to purchase and most I had never known  existed.

3. The Vietnam War Museum
Vietnam War Museum Ho Chi Minh City

Vietnam War Museum

At the entrance of the war museum, there were a group of young people playing instruments to entertain the guests and to earn money.  They all had physical disabilities from their parents and grandparents being exposed to Agent Orange.  I never realized that generations were to physically suffer from the war.

4. How People Got Around
Photo of scooters in Ho Chi Minh City

Scooters Everywhere Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

There were scooters and motorcycles everywhere.  We learned watching the locals how to cross the street.  You literally had to just walk into traffic without flinching and the scooters would always maneuver around you.  Otherwise, you could never get across the street.

5. The Children
Child giving peace sign in Ho Chi Minh City

Peace Sign from Child in Vietnam

We were met with stares and smiles from the children.  We were eating at a café and the owner’s daughter was walking around and when she saw us sitting, she gave us the “peace sign”.  Many children were curious about us and did this when they saw us.

6. The Gardens and Parks
gardens and park in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

Park in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

The gardens and parks were beautifully and meticulously pruned and made us feel welcome.

7. Communicating
getting directions at the Diep Anh Guest House - Saigon

Front Desk Diep Anh Guest House Ho Chi Minh City

The owner of the guest house we stayed in, the Diep Anh, knew very little English, however, she and Blake were able to communicate effectively – we think.

8. Rest Stops
traveling in Vietnam

Vietnamese Roadside Rest Stop

As we rode the bus on our tour, we saw these “rest stops” for you to stop and sleep in a hammock and get a meal.  What a great idea!

9. The Culture of the Mekong Delta Region
Culture of the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam

Culture of the Mekong Delta Area – Vietnams

So many people in this region depend entirely on the rivers for their livelihood.  In fact, many of them live on the boats or right on the shore.

10. I Love Vietnam
Residential Area Near Diep Anh Guesthouse Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

Residential Area Near Diep Anh Guesthouse Saigon Vietnam

I walked around several blocks one morning looking for a Coca-Cola light (no diet coke; the term diet is not understood well) and enjoyed the sights while Blake waited at the hostel for me.  I think he was coming to look for me when he spotted me and took this photo.  Obviously, I was enjoying myself.

Getting There

We woke up at 5:30 AM to catch our flight. We went from Columbia SC to Chicago then took a 15.5 hour flight to Hong Kong before taking a 2 hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The long flight was not bad. It helped that we had plenty of reading material and a couple of movies downloaded to the IPAD. Also, definitely take a neck bubble and eye mask. These help make sleeping on the plane easy.

Things to Do and See

  • Definitely take a 3 or 4 day tour of the Mekong Delta Region.  This are booked through various Guest Houses and travel agents around Ho Chi Minh City.  Its like traveling to another world
  • Stay in a Guest House in Ho Chi Minh City.  There are a number of highly rated ones on HostelWorld.com that have excellent visitor feedback.  The Diep Anh, where we stayed was very clean (much more clean than an American Motel) and safe.  You will experience the true culture in these residential areas.
  • The Vietnam War Museum will give you a different perspective of the war and will broaden your understanding of it
  • We did not go to the Chi Chi Tunnels but heard it is an interesting experience worth checking out
  • There are scooters for rent so if you want to live a little dangerously this might be worth giving a try

Areas for Caution

Ho Chi Minh City is a large city and has its share of associated crime like any big city.  We felt surprisingly safe in the residential back alleyways behind the retail areas.  This is where many of the families in the city live.  Based on everything we have read and our own experience, the country is relatively safe even for women traveling alone.  It has its share of petty thieves but major crime is relatively low.

Photo Gallery

In Ho Chi Minh City, there was a significant American based population many who appeared to be Ex-Pats who must have stayed on after the war or moved back there.
This was a photo taken by Stephanie in front of our guest house, known as the Diep Anh Guesthouse. It was very clean and well-kept. All guests (as is the custom of the area) removed their shoes before entering.
This was another view of the front of our guest house. We found it through Hostel.com and relied on a lot of really good reports by customers of theirs. The cost was about $18/night. The room was really nice.
This shot gives you an idea of the neighborhood. This is an alley that leads out to the main street and the commercial area. All people lived in buildings behind and above the commercial district. We spent our time at the guest house mainly surrounded by local Vietnamese residents.
This is a photo from the second story of our guesthouse showing a different angle of the neighborhood.

This is the commercial district down the alley from the residential area where we stayed.

The photo above and the following two are from the neighborhood around our guest house.

It appeared that the majority of Vietnamese residents had scooters and not cars.

The scooters were everywhere. It was amazing how many people could fit on a scooter. We saw a family of 4 plus groceries all on a small scooter and this was not unusual.

The following 3 photos are from the Vietnamese war museum that shows exhibits of the Vietnam war. It was very disturbing.